What’s Your Incentive?

Hi Folks,

I’ve long needed a specific incentive to do anything, to strive toward any goal, to achieve any level of success.

I love telling stories. But that doesn’t provide me with the appropriate incentive to spend hours in the chair writing.

I’d also love to make a good living with sales of my fiction, but because I’m a realist, that doesn’t provide even the slightest impetus. The fact is, these things take time, and frankly, I’m an old guy. I have better things to do—like write—than check sales figures several times a day.

I also love it when people say nice things about my writing.

Of my very first novel, my very first reviewer said it was “a great story” and “one of the most tightly plotted novels” he’d ever read.

Woohoo! Score! Especially given that I wrote that novel in 20 days, just writing off into the dark. No plotting, no planning. The “plot” was a Bradbury Plot, the one the characters left as they ran through the story.

But what others think or say about my writing doesn’t provide incentive either, or even validation realyl, because it’s all up to them and their own tastes. It’s outside my control.

Different people need different incentives to write. I get that.

And the same people are affected by different incentives at different times of their life.

I can’t honestly say what my primary incentive might have been had I stumbled across Heinlein’s Rules and the Writing Off Into the Dark technique when I was 20. I like to think it would have remained the same.

That primary incentive is mortality.

For me, it’s all a big, wonderful game. How many stories can I tell before I check out of this particularly odd little hotel? Specifically, how many novel-length stories?

Since I effectively started writing fiction in 2014, for me to spend the “40 years in the business” that professional fiction writer and extremely good instructor Dean Wesley Smith often touts, I’d have to live, actively, until I’m 102.

Yeah, okay. Ain’t gonna happen. Family history, health issues over which I have zero control, yada yada yada plus my own impatience to see what’s next precludes any chance of that.

I just want to turn out as many good stories as I can.

And my secondary incentive? There’s nothing better for me than to be the First Person who gets to be entertained by the stories my characters tell.

That provides a sense of wonder. And although that sense of wonder doesn’t drive me to the keyboard (mortality does that), it does make me look forward to what will happen when I put my fingers on the keyboard.

Which I’m going to do right now.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Rebuilding, and an Exciting Announcement

Hey Folks,

I’m sending this to all subscribers to the Pro Writers blog and the Free Story of the Week posts.

The Pro Writers posts will resume on Tuesday, June 27. This is a special post to notify you of updates and some exciting news. The Free Story of the Week will be supplanted with the challenge I outline below.

Basically, I’m decluttering and revamping my websites, and I’m prepping to begin a new long-term writing challenge that many of you might find interesting.

First, re the websites….

StoneThread Publishing — I’m giving up on StoneThread Publishing as a separate entity.

StoneThread was designed to give discounts to booksellers and private readers. Thus far (after almost two years) not one bookseller and few, if any, readers have taken advantage of it.

I’ll retain the name as my publisher, of course, unless I get a really good offer.

HEStanbrough.com — This is the once and future home of The Daily Journal.

I’m sending the Journal back down to the minor leagues beginning today. (grin) Those who are subscribed shouldn’t notice a difference.

I moved the Journal to the main site almost exactly two years ago in hopes of garnering new subscribers. But that hasn’t happened, so away it goes. This move will help declutter the main website. From now on, only the Pro Writers blog posts will appear on the main site.

Also, as more Topics from The Daily Journal become Pro-Writers blog posts, there will be less overlap on the main site. So you folks who subscribe only to Pro Writers will get the best of the topics without having to subscribe to The Daily Journal.

If you’d like to subscribe to the Journal anyway, just click the link in the header on the main website.

HarveyStanbrough.com — This is my main website. First, I’m simplifying the menu (I started that yesterday). If you have a moment, take a look and let me know in the comments what you think.

I’m also transfering everything from StoneThread Publishing (individual book pages, etc.) over to this main site. Then I’ll link the StoneThread URL to the main site. I should be finished with this process in a few days.

Now to one more website and the challenge I mentioned above:

HStanbrough.com — This is the new Writing in Public site. This is my modern-day effort to recreate what Harlan Ellison did in a storefront display window several decades ago.

Harlan set up a table and a typewriter in that display area. Then he wrote short stories, one after another, as people watched from the sidewalk. As he finished each page, he taped it to the window so the gathered folks could read the story as it progressed.

I will do the same thing, except I’m posting them online one scene or chapter at a time. No rewriting, no editing, no sleight of hand. I’ll try to remember to spell check them, but that’s it.

Only those who subscribe to HStanbrough.com will witness my efforts to write short stories (and maybe novellas and novels) “in public,” posted one scene or one chapter at a time.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, if you’ve ever wondered how a story grows from idea through the finished product — or, bless your heart, if you’ve ever wondered how I do that with my stories — this is an excellent opportunity to watch the process unfold.

Everybody who watches NASCAR or Indy car racing watch for one of two reasons: To see whether their favorite driver will prevail or to witness the wrecks first hand.

Wanna see me succeed and watch as I’m building stories? Subscribe. Wanna see me crash and burn? Subscribe. (grin)

Either way, I’ll be glad to have you along.

But don’t dawdle. The new Writing in Public challenge will begin on July 1 at the latest. But knowing me, there’s a good chance it will begin sooner than that.

Note: My efforts at writing in public will replace the Free Story of the Week. But I can’t transfer subscriptions.

If you want to watch me create new stories, you will have to visit Writing in Public at http://hstanbrough.com to subscribe. That subscription goes through a different service so subscribers will get an email update each time I post a new scene or chapter (instead of once per day via MailChimp).

I hope to see you there.

Thanks for your patience, and for being here in the first place. Now back to the work in progress on the websites.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

The Importance to a Writer of the Personal Challenge

Hi Folks,

Recently I undertook a personal challenge in my writing.

In writing, challenges are often attached to goals. This one was no different.

The challenge was to write at least one short story every day for the month of June 2017. Additionally, almost as an afterthought and to make the challenge a little more difficult, I decided to undertake it “in public.”

A few decades ago, Harlan Ellison set up a desk in a storefront window and wrote short stories, one after another, on a manual typewriter.

A crowd of curious onlookers gathered outside the window.

As he finished each page, Harlan stood and taped it face-out to the window so those interested could read his stories as they were being written.

No editing, and (OMG!) no rewriting. It’s called “writing in public,” and it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

In my version, initially I set up a new Facebook page, titled it Harvey Stanbrough Writing in Public, and started posting my short stories there one scene at a time, as they came out of my head.

After a few days, I remembered that what you post to Facebook is there pretty much forever. So I created a new dedicated page over on my main website and started posting the scenes there.

That was clunky at best.

Because of some family commitments, I finally ended the challenge after only 8 days. However, I had 8 new short stories I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

So I decided to do it again.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I quickly learned this challenge was extremely beneficial to my work. Even abbreviated, this challenge

● dramatically increased my production. As I said, now I have 8 new short stories I wouldn’t have had without the challenge. Also, I’ve averaged just under 4,000 words of new fiction per day.

● increased my proficiency. Because I was posting the stories “live” scene by scene, I felt a sense of urgency to write them cleanly and get them out there.

● actually decreased the harmful influence of my critical mind. Again, because I was posting the scenes “live,” I cycled back through them one time to add any obvious omissions. Then I spell-checked them, and then I published them. The sense of urgency kept me from getting mired in the process. (No rewriting, remember?)

● enabled me to learn and practice new techniques more quickly and more cleanly, again because of the sense of urgency that was attached to it.

● handed me 2 new novel starts. That’s right. Out of only 8 new stories, 2 of them will be developed and expanded into novels.

I’ll use the rest of this month to gather story ideas (story starters), finish my novel and maybe write a second one, and create covers for the stories I wrote this month. Then I’ll distribute them.

And I’ll have 8 new streams of income from my writing. Plus two more from novels soon. All from having a good time.

‘Til next time, happy writing!
Harvey

Quieting the Critical Mind

Hi Folks,

Following on the tail of Trusting Your Subconscious Mind, this suits.

I’ve talked before about writing off into the dark. In fact, my whole Daily Journal is based on that method of writing, piggybacked on the writer’s determination to follow Heinlein’s Rules. I even teach an Audio Course on Writing Off Into the Dark. Click the link and scroll down to Course 12.

But one subtopic is sorely lacking any direct instruction that I can find, even my own. Possibly because it’s a highly personal problem that must be solved by each writer for himself or herself: How to Quiet the Conscious, Critical Mind.

I could tell you how I do it, but that might or might not work for you. At least sometimes I tell my critical, conscious mind (yes, aloud) to get away from me, leave me alone, go sit in that corner over there until I’m finished writing.

And once you’ve sent your grownup, responsible, control-freak conscious mind packing? Be a two year old, for goodness’ sake! Just tell a story! Run and play and enjoy yourself!

Now, writing off into the dark merely means writing without an outline. But a big part of that (and the reason practitioners don’t use an outline) is learning to trust your subconscious. Learning to let go and turn off your English teacher’s voice in your head.

I call it the Golden Bradbury Rule, and I’m paraphrasing: If you don’t surprise yourself, how can you possibly hope to surprise the reader?

A correspondent emailedme to ask how to shut off the critical voice. I suppose I could have just said something like, “The same way you did before” (grin) but I didn’t want to be flip.

The thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any direct instruction regarding HOW to turn off critical voice, but there are a lot of hints at how to do so in all the other advice. Here are some of those hints:

  • Just let go of control and trust your subconscious. Don’t consciously construct sentences etc. You know how to do that without thinking about it, so Just Write.
  • Don’t “direct” your characters as the almighty writer on high. Get down in the trenches and run through the story with them. Be the recorder. Describe the setting(s) they’re running through and write down what they say and do.
  • Don’t Think. Just write. Again, if you don’t surprise yourself as a writer, how can you hope to surprise the reader?

When he was asked how he wrote Dandelion Wine, Bradbury responded that he wrote it the same way he wrote pretty much all of his stories and novels. He sat down at the keyboard, put his fingers on the keys, and just wrote whatever came.

And that is perhaps the best advice on how to quiet the critical mind. Put your fingers on the keyboard and just write what comes. When you get stuck, just write the next sentence. Then write the next sentence. Then write the next sentence.

Now, how do YOU relinquish control and just enjoy the story as you’re writing it? How do YOU quiet your critical mind?

Happy writing,

Harvey

Trust Your Subconscious Creative Mind

Hi Folks,

Every writer I know at one time or another has said (to me or to others while I was eavesdropping) that they want to develop their own unique voice.

“I have to say it my way,” they’ll say. “I don’t want it to sound like anyone else.”

I’ve even known writers who refuse to read works by other writers in the chosen genre because they’re afraid the other writers’ “style” will taint their own.

It won’t taint anything. I will inform and improve, but it won’t taint.

And weirdly, then those same writers will think nothing of rewriting a story, sometimes several times, to “polish” it. To make it sound exactly like someone else’s work. Amazing.

They don’t understand. What a writer starts with the first time she writes a story is her own, unique voice. What she ends up with after all that so-called polishing is a bit of tripe that reads exactly like everything else in the genre, only not good.

Know why it isn’t as good? Because most of those professional writers didn’t rewrite their work to death.

That’s right. They didn’t polish their unique voice off of it.

Again, if you want to find your unique voice, Trust Your Subconscious. It’s been making up stories and telling them since long before you even knew the alphabet.

But wait. I know. Your voice sounds boring to you, doesn’t it?

Know what? That’s because it’s with you 24/7/365.

To other people, your voice sounds unique. Think about that. You know it’s right.

So trust it. Your subconscious knows a great deal more about telling a good story than your conscious mind does.

Your conscious mind is a guard. You use it to learn, and you use it to keep you from doing stupid things like swimming with sharks and leaning your palm on a hot burner and stepping off a 1,000 foot drop.

Even Bradbury said “Nobody’s ever thought their way to anything in literature.”

Your conscious mind exists solely to safeguard you. It won’t allow you to do or say (or write) things that are outside accepted norms. If that’s all right with you, fine.

But think about that for a moment.

You already have nothing to say that hasn’t be said before, and if you are ruled by your conscious, critical mind, you can’t even say it in an original way.

Good luck with that. Frankly, if it were me, I’d throw away my writing stuff and go sell Earth shoes or something.

Happy writing,

Harvey

Reverse Outlines Revisited

Hey Folks,

This first appeared as a topic over at my Daily Journal at http://hestanbrough.com.

It also sprang from a comment (a question from another writer) on Dean Wesley Smith’s website.

Awhile back I talked about writing a “reverse outline.”

The idea is, as you write your novel off into the dark (no pre-plotting, outlining, etc.) sometimes keeping track of characters, what they’re wearing, major situations, etc. becomes cumbersome.

Now when I write a novel, I open the Word doc (novelname.doc) and start typing whatever comes. I’m an adherent of Heinlein’s Rules and I enjoy writing off into the dark.

But I also open a Notepad text (novelname notes.txt) document. I use Windows, but Mac has something similar. I keep it open and minimized on my screen as I’m writing the novel.

In that .txt document, at the end of every chapter or major scene, I fill in a few details about the chapter or scene.

Those details might include

  • character names and anything significant (wearing a brown leather vest or a grey longcoat),
  • place names (was the hotel called The Amarillo Inn or the Amarillo Inn? did the scene or chapter take place in Justin, Texas or Eustace, Oklahoma?),
  • names of any minor characters introduced in that scene or chapter and their occupation, and so on.

Anything at all that I think I might need to remember later in the novel.

This takes only a few seconds per chapter or major scene and it keeps me from having to scroll back or use the Find function to search for the information.

On Dean’s site, the question the other writer asked was about series short stories.

I know many writers (like Dean) can set out to write short stories in series.

I can’t and so far, I don’t.

But sometimes, a character from a short story (or novel) I wrote awhile back tugs at my sleeve and pitches another story to me.

So now when I write a short story, I also keep a reverse outline of it. Then if I do return to that world to write another story, I don’t have to open the original story and read through it for information. I only have to open the “shortstoryname notes.txt” document and I’m good to go.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Happy writing!
Harvey

PS: Hey! Only two days left before the madness begins at https://www.facebook.com/HarveyStanbroughWritingInPublic/. Stop by and watch the short stories develop scene by scene. I’ll post each scene live there as I write it. 🙂

On Specificity and Clarity in Writing

Hey Folks,

I was going to write a whole post on this topic, but really, that isn’t necessary. It’s a personal pet-peeve kind of thing. And far be it from me to foist my “beliefs” on anyone else.

What pet peeve?

Well, people who write things and then postulate—not even apologetically but more apoplectically and with a wag of the hand—that “The reader will know what I mean.”  Those folks get on my nerves. Deep and hard.

But I have come to understand that such things don’t matter, by and large, to many people, writers and readers alike. Or at least it seems so to me.

For example, despite published writings that are replete with inappropriate instances of absolutes (all, never, always, everyone, nobody, etc.), apparently no writers write like that. Ever.

If you don’t believe me, ask them.

And despite published writings that are chock full of eyes wandering out of heads and doing things on their own (her eyes flew across the room and came to rest on a barrel of metal shavings), again, no writer put those words on a page. Again, ever.

And the same goes for other body parts: “her legs raced along the sidewalk” or “his nose smelled something strange” or “her ears listened closely” or “his finger dialed the telephone” or “his hand crept into his pocket to retrieve his revolver.”

No writers that I’ve been able to find write like that either. Ever.

But based on the hard evidence contained between the covers of some books, some do. Or maybe the publishers are sneaking that stuff in.

Anyway, if you mention those faux pas to the writers, they grin the grin of a thousand braying jackasses, wag that hand in the air as if you and they are old buddies and say something like, “Aah, you know, the readers know I didn’t mean it like that.”

And most often I smile and say something noncommittal, like “Hey, when you’re right, you’re right” or “Ah.”

But the truth lurks in my mind: No, Sparky, they don’t.

Readers read for either or both of two purposes: entertainment and-or information. If you write “never,” they read “never.” They don’t automatically substitute “seldom” or “sometimes” or some other less-inclusive, less blanket-clad word.

If you write that “her legs raced down the road,” the reader sees disembodied legs racing down the road.

If you write that “her eyes came to rest on a barrel of metal shavings,” the reader will wince. Because face it, that had to hurt.

And it isn’t the reader’s fault that they take you at your word(s). It’s your fault.

After all, the reader has no choice but to accept what you put on the page, whether it’s in your novel, in your Essay On Some Topic Of Major Importance or on your Facebook page.

I’ve never known a reader who was hungry for a verbal repast to go looking for a soup sandwich. But that’s often what they get.

It is up to the purveyor of the repast to determine whether he or she is going to serve a nutrituous, delicately balanced meal or something that’s half-baked and barely slopped together.

Am I being nitpicky?

Yes. But only where my own sensibilities are concerned.

Hey, if you want to continue slopping grey, watery soup over stale bread in a bowl, go ahead. If you want to hit it with a dash of sea salt, proclaim it prime rib and hand it out to weary, gaunt-eyed travelers who are starved for sustenance, that’s your business.

I’m only giving you notice that I will not partake. Nor will I sidle up alongside you in the soup kitchen, grab a ladle and begin flinging greasy dumplings at the wall in the hope they will stick and “be something good.”

So anyway, I was gonna devote a whole post to this notion that writers, not readers, are responsible for the clarity or lack thereof in writing.

But it’s a personal thing, so I won’t.

I’ll just pass along a wish that your characters’ eyes will remain in their head. Unless it’s a horror novel and they get whacked really, really hard.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

PS: If you wanna see what I do when I’m having fun, swing by Harvey Stanbrough Writing in Public (https://www.facebook.com/HarveyStanbroughWritingInPublic/) and take a gander. For the month of June, you can watch short stories grow there scene by scene.

A Personal Challenge and an Invitation

Hi Folks,

I set myself a personal challenge. For the month of June, I want to write a new short story every day. That’s tough enough.

But in addition to that, I want to write those stories truly “in public.” I want the public to be able to watch virtually as the stories grow, scene to scene.

To that end, in the original challenge, I was going to paste each scene to a Facebook page I set up just for that purpose.

Only a couple days ago, my conscious mind wheedled its way in and I lost control. I decided maybe it would be better to post the whole story (albeit still once a day) to the Facebook page.

I reasoned that (1) apparently there weren’t many folks all that interested and (2) those who were interested would still see the end product each day, follow my progress on the challenge, etc.

But then Robert J. Sadler, a dear friend in Texas, pointed out to me in an email that, frankly, I was chickening out. (grin)

And he was right. (Friends respect each other enough to tell each other the truth. In my world, that’s the main qualifier to earn the title.)

In part of his note to me, he wrote

“…I can understand if the prospect of no story-starved pedestrians standing outside the window seems a reasonable reason for not implementing your challenge.

“That said, you made a point that this was your challenge and not issued to anyone other than yourself. So with that perspective in mind, whether the tree falls in the forest with no one around to hear it, the tree still falls. …

“So … if you wanna write-in-public, as you suggest, then knock yourself out… even if there is no public to witness it.”

Or as Yoda put it, “There is no try. Do or do not.”

And the epiphany?

Writing scenes has always been easy for me. Scenes pop into my head all the time, complete with characters, setting, dialogue and so on. So I can write scenes all day.

But with my conscious mind creeping in, I allowed myself to “hope” the scenes would connect well and the characters would lead me through to the end.

And that’s what I was doing wrong without realizing it. That whole “hope” thing.

Once I replaced “hope” with “trust” (thanks to my friend’s email), everything else fell into place.

So the challenge is back on, in its original form. Beginning on June 1, I will write one short story per day for the month. Each time I finish a scene, I’ll paste it “live” to Facebook so whoever wants to can see it.

But my friend was right. It’s my challenge. I’m not challenging others to do something similar, though if they do, it’s all right by me. I’m not even challenging others to watch.

I’m only challenging myself to give others something to watch.

If they watch and enjoy, wonderful. If they don’t, it will still be one hell of an experience. (grin)

By the way, if you want to follow along on this madness, visit https://www.facebook.com/HarveyStanbroughWritingInPublic/. There’s already some preliminary stuff there. The fun begins on June 1. If you have friends who might be interested, please feel free to share this post.

‘Til next time, happy writing!
Harvey

PS: If you enjoy great photography and great fiction, stop by Robert J. Sadler’s website at http://robertjsadler.com/ and browse. You won’t be disappointed.

Getting in My Own Way

Hi Folks,

Sometimes, probably more often than not, my own biggest problem is Me.

Today I knocked out something over 2000 words before I went walking. Didn’t walk all that long. I didn’t even need a shower, really, although I took one because that’s what you do.

After that, I was fired up to leap back into writing another scene in The Marshal of Agua Perlado.

And I did.

Then I got stuck.

I wasn’t stuck like writers usually complain about being stuck though. I was stuck because I really, really liked the scene I had just written. And I wanted folks to see it early.

So I excerpted it, then adapted it (changed a few words here and there, added a bit of info to clarify names that readers of the novel would have known but that seem orphaned in the short story, things like that.

Okay, good. The short story of the week for next Monday (5/25) is done early, ready to go. (I wrote it after 9 a.m. this morning, so it’s legit for the new week.)

Only now I have to create a promo document for it.

The promo document is just a Notepad document that contains the story title, name of the publisher, the story description and Internet search tags so I can copy and paste them into Smashwords and Amazon instead of rewriting them every time.

And a cover. I have to find a suitable cover photo, select the right font(s) and create a cover for it. Well, and then I have to publish it to Smashwords and Amazon and my free story website and HarveyStanbrough.com.

Okay. All of that’s done so now I can get back to the novel. Three and a half hours later. (groan)

That’s okay. Breathe. Fortunately, I had typed well over 2500 words (my daily goal is 3000, remember?) before I started all the insanity, so I have to type only one more session and I can call it a day.

Of course, I don’t count the words in the short story in my word count since they’re virtually the same as the words in the novel. There are maybe twenty words in the short story that are not in the novel. Not worth the time to figure it out. So I show the word count for the short story, but those words are not duplicated in the totals at the end.

So that’s what I mean about getting in my own way.

It’s like I ran out in front of myself, stuck out my leg, and tripped me, making me stumble for almost four hours during which I should have been writing or cursing or drinking or something. I don’t know. I’m only one guy here.

Usually.

Happy writing,

Harvey

A Reminder Concerning Streaks

Hi Folks,

Sometime or another, in one place or another, I mentioned to someone that Streaks Have Power.

I probably mentioned it here before, and I’m sure I mentioned it in at least two or three seminars or writing intensives.

To create a streak, you set a daily or weekly or monthly goal and then achieve it time after time after time.

If you’ve ever worked in one of those places where the management had a sign up that said something like “93 Accident Free Days” and then the number changed each day, you were witnessing a streak.

And even if you weren’t the one who got hurt and had ZERO vested interest in the streak continuing, when they reset it back to 0 or 1 Accident Free Days, it disappointed you.

Same way with writing streaks.

My own best streak thus far is my short stories.

Back in April 2014, I set a goal to write and publish a new short story every week. That included writing the story, creating an attractive cover for it, and publishing it to three places: here, Smashwords, and Amazon.

On the first venue, the story went out free to subscribers, once per week, every week. Thanks to the latter two venues, within a week or so, the same story was available for sale in over 100 nations worldwide. Cool.

In that particular streak, today (May 17, 2015) I published the 65th short story. That’s 65 short stories in 58 weeks. When I post the cover over on HarveyStanbrough.com/short-stories a little later today, it will be the 93rd story cover there.

So what makes streaks so powerful?

When you get a streak going, you don’t want to break it. That’s it.

And the longer the streak runs, the more it will torque your jaws if you allow it to end. The thing is, as of about 1:30 p.m. today, I have a streak of 65 short stories writing at least one story per week. If I don’t post one next week (Monday, May 25) the next time I write a short story my “streak” will be 1 story. Ugh.

The other good thing about streaks and their power is this: If you DO happen to fail, you fail to success.

When Dean Wesley Smith set himself a goal to write one short story per week, his streak broke at 47 stories. Oof. Body punch. On the other hand, in that year, he had written 47 stories. Can that really be called a failure? I don’t think so.

Now, if I had said, on April 15 last year, “Y’know, I’m gonna set a goal to write 52 short stories before next April 15,” no possible way I would have done it. Then I’d have excused myself. After all, writing 52 short stories in a year is a ridiculously high goal. It’s unrealistic.

But that isn’t what I did. I set a REALISTIC goal to write at least ONE sparkling, shiny new short story every week. And in that same 52 week period I wrote 59 short stories.

So there y’go. Set yourself a repeating, renewing goal and build yourself a streak. I swear it’s worth it. Tell your writing groups and partners and get them to do it with you. Great fun.

Happy writing,

Harvey